October 27 2016

4 Things We Learned about Marfa, Texas This Week

New York-Standard Talks
On Tuesday, October 25th a group of wistful New Yorkers abandoned the city’s busy streets to hear about a place where the air is fresher, the pace is slower, and if the grass isn’t exactly greener, it’s certainly more plentiful. Plus, you can get really good falafel. A panel discussion (titled Marfa: Drawn to a Sky Island) on the third floor of The Standard, High Line revealed five different perspectives on the remote city of Marfa, Texas. As moderator Jake Silverstein, Editor-in-Chief of The New York Times Magazine described, “it’s a town in far west Texas in the sort of Northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert. A population of about 2,400 people. An old ranching town, a town that is now full of a lot of really amazing art.” The panelists—Bunkhouse Group hotelier Liz Lambert, creative agency Laird + Partners’ founder and CEO Trey Laird, Judd Foundation Co-President Rainer Judd, and Grizzly Bear band member and producer Chris Taylor—each shared their own experiences with Marfa. Here’s what we learned. [Note on aforementioned falafel: it’s from Food Shark, Chris Taylor’s first stop when he gets to town.] 

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MARFA HAS MORE IN COMMON WITH 19TH CENTURY RUSSIAN LITERATURE (AND RUSSIA) THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
Silverstein discussed the origin of Marfa’s name. “It’s a possibly apocryphal story,” he prefaced. Allegedly, someone related to the railroad was reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1880 classic, The Brothers Karamazov, and thought one of the characters’ names, Marfa Ignatieva, had some resonance with the place. Judd mentioned that the town’s wide streets enthralled her father, famed artist Donald Judd. When Rainer later visited Moscow, she saw a city with a similar scale. “I just want to say that I’m from Odessa, and they have wide streets too,” said Lambert.

MARFA COULD MAKE OR BREAK YOUR RELATIONSHIP
“Everybody I’ve ever loved, I’ve taken there,” said Lambert.
“I would agree. If somebody doesn’t like Marfa, I might never speak to them again,” echoed Judd.
Taylor related how his band had a difficult time trying to create music in Marfa, “probably for band reasons.” Silverstein revealed that he got married in the town.
Takeaway: venture to Marfa at your own creative, romantic, and interpersonal risk.

MARFA HAS ITS QUIRKS
Depending on the time of year, Marfa can be empty or hosting a few thousand people. According to Lambert, businesses can be so overwhelmed by an influx of visitors that they shut down. The Pizza Foundation might run out of dough. Restaurant Cochineal might open late because the staff is hungover. On a more serious note, the town is also fighting the in-progress Trans Pecos Pipeline, which threatens to take West Texas residents’ land. Judd urged visitors to contribute to anti-pipeline efforts.

WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IF YOU WANT TO VISIT / BUY PROPERTY / MOVE THERE
Marfa is remote: the nearest airports, El Paso and Midland, are about three hours away. “If you want to go there, you’re going to have to work for it,” said Laird. “It’s not going to be an Art Basel, Coachella sort of thing.” Nevertheless, he keeps a place there. If you follow suit, Judd has some advice. “In case anyone’s about to buy a house in Marfa, I just want to give you a few tips from Don Judd,” said the artist’s daughter. “First of all, he never built anything on new land. Second of all, he had this incredible respect for labor. He had this way of building around or actually allowing you to see what somebody had built in this very sensitive way.” If you need a job, said Lambert, her nomadic hotel and campground, El Cosmico, needs a new general manager. New adventure, anyone?


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Photographer
Christos Katsiaouni
Writer
Alina Cohen